Kevin Feige might be the sorcerer supreme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but when it comes to the “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (and it’s own expanding universe), Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach are it. Arad is the guy who, back when he ran Marvel, got the comics company back on its feet and started Marvel Studios that would eventually rival any of its Hollywood contemporaries. (It’s also worth noting that without his aggressively innovative management, Disney would have never bought Marvel). Arad now shepherds the crown jewel property that is, as of yet, out of Disney’s hands: Spider-Man. Together with Tolmach, Arad’s new goal is to challenge Marvel’s sprawling cinematic landscape, complete with a whole continuum of spin-offs and sequels. We recently sat down with the pair and talked about the possibility of multiple cinematic Spider-Men, if the Mary Jane footage will ever see the light of day, and whether or not they see the Spider-universe infecting the small screen too.
First and foremost, this piece contains spoilers. So if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing, it might be a better idea to come back after you actually see the movie. If you know the comics well and have a strong constitution, please, read on.
These two are the keepers to an entire vault of secrets regarding “The Amazing Spider-Man” and the planned “Venom” and “Sinister Six” spin-offs, as well as things that we’re fairly certain are in the works but have yet to be announced. They’re also politicians, so please read between the lines with some of this stuff…
With Webb and Garfield both confirming that they’re done after the third movie, will you be continuing on with “The Amazing Spider-Man” movies?
Arad: Spider-Man is the biggest character and can be filled in by able actors; he’s survived for over 50 years. And I think that he will around for at least another 100 years or more. He is just is one of the most enduring role models and one of the only superheroes who starts at this age and keeps going.
Tolmach: We’re also nowhere near there. Because we’ve got “Sinister Six,” “Venom,” “Spider-Man 3.” Here is what we will tell you: they all come out of the universe of Spider-Man. Who you see, who you don’t see, we’re not going to tell you now. But we’re nowhere near done with them.
Are Miles Morales (“Ultimate Spider-Man”), Ben Reilly (clone Spider-Man) or Miguel O’Hara (“Spider-Man 2099”) on the table? If you want a Spider-Man movie every year why not bring in some of the other variations?
Arad: No. The one thing you cannot do, when you have a phenomena that has stood the test of time, you have to be true to the real character inside – who is Peter Parker? What are the biggest effects on his life? Then you can draw in time, and you can consider today’s world in many ways. But to have multiple ones… I don’t know if you remember, but Marvel tried it. And it was almost the end of Spider-Man.
So Spider-Man in the cinematic realm will always be Peter Parker?
Tolmach: As far as we’re concerned. The guys who take it over after us… Who knows…
Is “Venom” the beginning of a separate franchise? Are you looking at sequels for that?
Tolmach: It certainly could be. But again: they’re all going to converge in some way.
How tied into “The Amazing Spider-Man” universe will these things be?
Tolmach: They all will fit but will still be movies unto themselves. But the possibility for crossover is absolute. That’s the idea – to not just build them modularly. You have to make movies that stand alone as movies. But the clever idea is, What if you could cross the swords? So the universes have to tonally link up with each other, for sure.
Arad: Don’t forget that Venom has Planet of the Symbiote. There’s a lot of meat on this dark bone. And it all comes back to Spider-Man. So everything we are going to do, all the extensions, Spider-Man will always be there, the idea, even if he’s off-screen, will be there.
Tolmach: The “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” model…
Will we see The Lizard again?
Tolmach: There’s no never.
Arad: All I can tell you is that we’ve never had more of an opportunity, by establishing Oscorp as the station from which it’s all coming. You can do a whole new vision of what the Lizard will look like next time.
Tolmach: We don’t know. And honestly these villains happen only after we decide what Peter’s story is – who are the villains best suited to put him under pressure? And that’s how we arrive at things.
But with the “Sinister Six” you’re free of those constraints. Is it an origin story where we’re going to introduce six new guys? Can you speak to that?
Arad: That was close… Listen, you can make some assumptions here. And you cannot be right or wrong on it.
Tolmach: It’s a lot of origin story. So… Yeah…
So some we may know, some we may be meeting for the first time?
Tolmach: There you go.
You’ve said that you think that the Spider-Man universe is potentially as big as “The Avengers.” Can you explain that?
Arad: If you look at the Marvel handbook, everybody was a member of the Avengers. Now what does that mean? If you want the same freedom, you have the Sinister Twelve or the Sinister Fifty. If the villains are interesting and we have some really interesting villains, then they get together anything is possible.
Tolmach: Yes, it absolutely is. Think about everybody that’s in the Spider-Man universe, both good and bad. It’s enormous. It was time that we delved into that after making a bunch of Spider-Man movies.
Is there a chance the Mary Jane stuff will wind up on the DVD?
Tolmach: No. Because it never made sense. It was never in a cut of the movie. It just didn’t make sense.
Were you freer to do more experimentation, since the others were very much self-contained?
Arad: Yes, but we can only do it because the studio is very supportive on where we want to go.
Tolmach: We were more constrained on the last one.
Arad: Well, because of the content. We had to tell an origin story and people are very sensitive to that. “Well, you have to kill Uncle Ben differently.” We’ll do it with a blow dart like the pygmies.
Well, you could have let Uncle Ben live.
Tolmach: But that would forever change Peter. There are certain things that are just right.
Arad: It would be like desecrating. The things that you really cannot do, I think we tried really hard to make things be a little bit different.
Tolmach: We had a lot more freedom on this one. There’s a lot less that’s sacred, although we did do one very sacred story…
Was there any thought to letting Gwen Stacy live?
Tolmach: We always knew this story was going to happen. We don’t want people to say, “Okay already, let’s get to it…” It’s more dramatic that you don’t see it coming. And people don’t. Neither did Peter. You have to keep people on the edge of their seat.
Arad: You cannot keep on doing it. If we let her live, then she goes to the airport…
Tolmach: And then she goes to London – and what’s that movie?
Arad: “Do you have your passport Peter?”
Just as Peter has had many villains he’s also had many lovers. Are we jumping right into Mary Jane?
Tolmach: We’re not sure yet. You’ll definitely see Mary Jane. But the timing of it…
Arad: I don’t know!
How do you snag these big actors for these smaller roles? Do you promise them that they’ll have more to do later down the line?
Tolmach: No! Webb directed an episode of “The Office,” so he became friends with BJ Novak. Felicity Jones we actually got a call about her being in it. People want to be in these movies. Paul Giamatti was on “Late Night” or whatever it was and said, “I want to be the Rhino.” We didn’t even know him.
Arad: In a way it would have been intimidating to call Paul. “Excuse me, the producers are on the phone – are you interested in playing The Rhino?”
Tolmach: It’s a good lesson.
Arad: The Marvel journey was such that the best, biggest, greatest actors want to be in these franchises. It changed. When Robert Redford shows up in “Captain America,” come on…
Speaking of big actors, Chris Cooper signed on for a few.
Tolmach: Chris Cooper. [laughs] That’s all I’m saying.
Arad: Don’t take advantage of our brain dead attitude!
Tolmach: Something is going on there, with Chris Cooper.
Hypothetically, if you could bring in another Marvel superhero into this franchise – who would it be?
Tolmach: This is a very tricky thing for me. And that’s partially because of what happens in my home every day, where Captain America is beloved. So I have, not only had this conversation, but I’ve played this game, too, in which I am Captain America and my son gets to be Spider-Man. So I think it would be a disservice if I didn’t say it was a fantasy… At least for my child. And I know who he’s going to say…
Arad: I… Well… Go on Superhero Hype and you’ll see 500 people who want me dead. Because I just feel that Spider-Man is a singular character. He’s a singular hero. He works alone.
Tolmach: He’s not saying that! You have to pick one!
Arad: I’ll tell you seriously… Wolverine. And Beast. There was an episode that was in the comics where Spider-Man became Man-Spider and he needs help. He is mutating. He has to go find Professor Xavier. So he has to go and find these people and it’s a fantastic story, how he comes to them to look for help. And the guy who doesn’t trust him is Wolverine. He says, “You cover your face, why would I trust you?” But Beast understands the dilemma. That would be a fascinating story and it’s still central to Spider-Man. It’s all about Spider-Man at the end of the day. Now, for Sony and Fox to make this deal and for Disney to endorse it… We’ll probably have peace in the Middle East before that.
Well is there the possibility of going the television route?
Arad: No. Look at the scope. Look at the influence. You cannot stunt him. You have to take and respect him and take the influence of Spider-Man on kids from a very young age to high school and the parents using this positive influence of Spider-Man. You have to be careful with it. It’s so precious. It’s a success that happened because Stan Lee created a character we all love and we all care about.
Tolmach: You know who we never talk about? The Tinkerer. Aliens.
Arad: I know.
“Amazing Spider-Man 2” opens on Friday.